Before Thursday night’s American Cinematheque gala, it had been 22 months since Scarlett Johansson had set foot on a red carpet.
“This is more than dipping my toe in. I feel like I’m getting completely drenched. But it’s exciting,” Johansson told Variety of attending the event held in honor of her near 30-year career.
Johansson was joined for the big night by her husband, “Saturday Night Live’s” Colin Jost (who handed her a glass of champagne mid-interview as she made her way down the long line of reporters), and a host of former co-stars and friends, including her Marvel compatriot Jeremy Renner and Abbie Cornish, as well as her twin brother Hunter Johansson.
“I’m just happy to be out and see people and reconnect and reemerge,” she added, noting that the honor itself was “almost too much to take in. It’s a lot to process.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of years for the star, who came off her double Oscar-nominated run for “Marriage Story” and “Jojo Rabbit” to finally star in and executive produce her long-awaited standalone project “Black Widow.”
“Honestly making ‘Black Widow’ was one of the highlights of my career,” Johansson shared. “I loved coming to work every single day working with my dream director Cate Shortland and an incredible cast of actors. I felt so fortunate and thankful every single day.”
The same went for her experience as part of the post-production process and having the opportunity to shepherd the project from start to finish.
“Of course, when the pandemic hit and we were pushed, like that was disappointing. But obviously it was crazy times,” she continued. “I was really happy that the film was able to be seen in the theater at a time where more people were vaccinated and more people felt safe going. I certainly never wanted people to feel like they were risking their health or their lives to go to the movies.”
Johansson described the whole experience as a “surreal time,” not to mention the fact that she also gave birth to her second child during this period. “A lot was going on,” she said.
Things became more complicated still when Johansson filed suit against Disney in July, arguing that the simultaneous streaming release of the “Black Widow” cannibalized the theatrical gross, and violated her contract. After a public back and forth, the parties settled in late September.
“Going through the Disney lawsuit, when you’re doing something that feels like it’s not been done before, and it feels like it’s uncharted territory, it’s a little …” Johansson began, searching for the right word and accepting the offer of “terrifying.”
“You have a lot of doubt,” she continued. “But at the same time, I felt like I was standing up for what was right, and now, no one will ever have to deal with that again. So that makes me feel like it was worth it for sure.”
The actor also addressed the public support she received from Jamie Lee Curtis (who was on hand as one of her presenters) and her Marvel co-star Elizabeth Olsen.
“It was everything, because it can feel very lonely to be in that place,” Johansson said. “Just knowing that all these strong women were standing up with me, felt like I was doing something that was worth it. It was very touching for me. And it buoyed me for a time that was stressful.”
Johansson’s comments regarding the lawsuit were the last to be made during the evening, which kicked off with a few words from Jon Favreau, who’s worked with Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as his films “Chef” and “The Jungle Book.” Favreau arrived at the event during dinner and made a beeline for Johansson, who was at the center of the ballroom chatting with Team Marvel, including president Kevin Feige and Victoria Alonso.
Other presenters included “Jojo Rabbit” co-stars Thomasin McKenzie and Sam Rockwell (who’d also co-starred in “Iron Man 2” and appeared virtually, teasing Johansson about the times she’d kicked his butt onscreen), plus Andy Richter, who delighted audiences with a clip of the actor’s first on-screen appearance, playing a spelling bee winner in a sketch on “Conan” in 1994.
Feige took the stage to introduce the “Black Widow” retrospective, touting Johansson’s contributions to the MCU as both the actor who embodied Natasha Romanoff for the last decade and a “very, very smart producer.” He also celebrated her work as a model for the expanding network of female characters that have followed her lead (name-dropping Carol Danvers, Wanda Maximoff, Shuri, Jennifer Walters, Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan). Among other platitudes, Feige called Johansson, “one of the most talented, versatile and beloved actors of our time.”
Then the Marvel chief broke a little news. “We already are working with Scarlett on another not Black Widow-related top-secret Marvel Studios project,” Feige announced.
In addition to Favreau and Feige, fellow Marvel stars Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Evans (who noted he first worked with Johansson nearly 20 years ago on 2004’s “The Perfect Score”) saluted their friend virtually, while Renner served as the final presenter, taking the stage to deliver the American Cinematheque trophy to Johansson.
There, the actor expressed her gratitude to all the co-stars, crew, agents, managers and publicists who’ve supported her over the decades, as well as her mother Melanie, who fostered her love of movies (and possibly introduced her to “Silence of the Lambs” and “Schindler’s List” a little too young.)
Looking back at one of her earliest roles, 1994’s “North,” Johansson said she “knew instantaneously there was no job in the world or a creative family I’d rather be a part of and I still feel that way. … I’ve only gotten more certain over time that I am doing the job that I’m supposed to be doing — having a visceral, emotional reaction in a make-believe world. That’s the magic of movies.”
After making a couple quips about how she contextualized receiving the honor with her therapist, she thanked the American Cinematheque for walking her down memory lane.
“I’ve never been able to step back and really see the work as part of the whole thing. I still think about line readings I could have improved on from ‘Her,’” she joked. “But tonight has been a incredible gift, because it’s allowed me to take pause and take it all in. And to take the temperature and survey the landscape before continuing so gratefully down the path that chose me 30 years ago.”
Johansson shared top billing for the evening with Participant, which was honored with the American Cinematheque’s inaugural Power of Cinema award. Presented by Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom McCarthy (who made “The Visitor,” “Stillwater” and best picture winner “Spotlight” at the studio), CEO David Linde accepted the prize on behalf of the company, dedicating it to longtime executive Diane Weyermann who died in October.
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